Mary O’Brien, 3rd Countess of Orkney

There’s nothing that excites me more than finding a family with multiple links to the St Johns of Lydiard Park – I know, very sad and I probably should get out more!

The Good Gentlewoman featured today is Mary O’Brien, 3rd Countess of Orkney whose portrait (below) this may or may not be.

Mary O'Brien, 3rd Countess of Orkney

Mary O’Brien, 3rd Countess of Orkney

Some say it is of her daughter also named Mary, 4th Countess of Orkney. If any reader has the definitive answer perhaps they would like to add it to the comments below. Meanwhile I’ll continue.

Mary was born c1720, the daughter of Anne and William O’Brien, 4th Earl of Inchiquin. As the eldest daughter of George Hamilton 1st Earl of Orkney, Anne inherited the title in her own right, as did her only child, daughter Mary.

Mary was born deaf and her marriage to her cousin Murrough O’Brien on March 5, 1753 at Duke Street Chapel, Story’s Gate, St James’s Park was conducted by signs.

After the ceremony the couple returned to their home Rostellan Castle on the west coast of Ireland, although Murrough spent much of his time in London where he had many mistresses.

Rostellan Castle

When Mary’s daughter was born in 1755 her greatest concern was that the child might also be deaf. The story goes that Mary crept into the nursery where her baby daughter was asleep in the care of her nursemaid. As she gazed into the baby’s cradle she pulled out a large stone from beneath her shawl. The young nursemaid jumped to her feet, terrified that the Countess planned to crush the child. As she rushed to take the stone from the Countess, Mary threw it to the floor, creating a loud noise. The baby awoke and began to cry and the mother sank to her knees ‘in a transport of joy’ relieved that the child was able to hear.

This account was recalled 75 years later in the obituary of that baby, the 4th Countess of Orkney published in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1830.

Sadly there is a somewhat disturbing postscript to this poignant tale.

“She (the 3rd Countess) exhibited on many other occasions similar proofs of intelligence, but none so interesting.”

Along with the title Mary also held property of her own. Her grandfather George,Hamilton, 1st Earl of Orkney, bought Taplow Manor in around 1700. It was here that George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham built his 17th century palatial manor house. The lodges, temple and pavilions were later additions completed by Mary’s grandfather and the whole shebang was enjoyed by, among others, Frederick Prince of Wales, father of George III, who leased the property for several years.

Sadly Buckingham’s pile was razed to the ground in 1795. The property better known today as Cliveden House was built on the site in 1851,

Cliveden

Cliveden

Cliveden was later owned by the Astor family. American born Nancy, Lady Astor was the first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons, elected Tory MP for Plymouth South in 1919.

The Victorian mansion later provided the backdrop for the notorious 1960s Profumo Affair featuring Christine Keeler and John Profumo, Conservative MP for Kettering and Secretary of State of War. Their brief affair ruined Profumo’s reputation and political career and even toppled the Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.

Nancy Aston by John Singer Sargent

Nancy Aston by John Singer Sargent

Even though Lady Astor has no connection (well, none so far discovered) to the St John family I couldn’t resist including this beautiful portrait by John Singer Sargent.

Mary died at Rostellan Castle in May 1790. Some accounts say she was buried at Cloyne Cathedral in County Cork others at Taplow in Buckinghamshire. My research continues.

So what is the connection between Mary O’Brien, 3rd Countess of Orkney and the St John family at Lydiard Park. Well, if I told you that the maiden name of both her grandmothers’ was Villiers, would that help? Elizabeth Villiers, the former mistress of William III, married George Hamilton, 1st Earl of Orkney. Her daughter Anne was Mary’s mother. Mary Villiers married William O’Brien, 3rd Earl of Inchiquin and their son William O’Brien, 4th Earl of Inchiquin was Mary’s father. Mary and Elizabeth Villiers were the daughters of Sir Edward Villiers and Frances Howard. Sir Edward was the youngest son of Sir Edward Villiers and his wife Barbara St John, born at Lydiard House c1590.

And there’s more … but let’s save that for another day.

The Beautiful Lady Craven

Ashdown House was the subject of a recent talk at Swindon Central Library by best selling author of historical romances Nicola Cornick. The former hunting lodge on the Berkshire and Oxfordshire borders was built in 1662 by the fabulously wealthy William Craven for the exiled Elizabeth of Bohemia, sister of Charles I.

Elizabeth of Bohemia

Elizabeth of Bohemia

The Purbeck stone floor in the entrance hall at Ashdown made from stone quarried in Swindon was just one of the local connections Nicola revealed. And even more interesting were a couple of St John family ones as well.

In 1714, Henry, Viscount Bolingbroke, politically adrift following the death of Queen Anne, holed up at Ashdown House where he plotted and planned to restore James II’s Catholic son to the English throne.

Among the Craven ladies Nicola mentioned was the colourful, self styled ‘beautiful’ Lady Craven.

Elizabeth Berkeley married William Craven, 6th Baron Craven, on May 30, 1767 at St Martin in the Fields, Westminster. Elizabeth would later describe her husband as fond and stupid while she was beautiful and clever. The marriage, which had begun happily enough, eventually failed after thirteen years and seven children. In her memoirs Elizabeth blamed the breakdown on her husband’s affair, but it might not have been quite so one sided as that.

The beautiful Lady Craven

The beautiful Lady Craven

The gutter press of the day delighted in the antics of the indiscreet Lady Craven. And in 1773 literary hostess Mrs Frances Boscawen wrote to that other literary lady, Mrs Mary Delany – “we talk much of Lady Craven and have a variety of stories which I shall not employ my pen to string for you…”

In 1780 Craven settled £1,500 a year upon his troublesome wife, sending her on her way. Taking her youngest son Richard Keppel Craven with her, Elizabeth set up home in a house at Versailles.

An intrepid traveller and prolific writer, Elizabeth’s oeuvre consisted of “sonnets, rebuses, charades, epilogues, and songs, and besides, not a few plays” according to a contemporary. Elizabeth numbered lexicographer Samuel Johnson among her devotees who described her as “the beautiful, gay, and fascinating, Lady Craven.”

William Craven died in 1791 leaving Elizabeth free to marry her longtime amour, also recently widowed, Alexander, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach and Bayreuth, a cousin of George III. Elizabeth and Alexander moved to England where they lived in some style at properties in Hammersmith and Berkshire.

Following Alexander’s death in 1806, Elizabeth returned to the continent. She died at her home, Craven Villa in Posillipo, Naples in 1828. She is buried in the English Cemetery at Naples.

And that all important St John connection? Elizabeth’s daughter Arabella Craven, born in 1774, married General Hon. Frederick St. John, second son of Frederick St John 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke, and Lady Diana Spencer. Ashdown House Today Ashdown House is owned by the National Trust and Nicola is a member of the team of volunteers who undertake guided tours of the property.

Elizabeth Countess of Portsmouth

If the family stories handed down to you included the fate of two first cousins twice removed, beheaded by a tyrannical King, you could be forgiven for being a bit anti-monarchist. Add into the sticky mix a great grandfather who was possibly the illegitimate son of the same red bearded, big cod piece wearing bully and a great great grandmother whose maiden name was Boleyn – well its enough to turn a good gentlewoman a bit, how shall we say, republican!

Elizabeth Howard - a miniature from the studio of John Hoskins the elder. Courtesy of Ham House, Surrey

Elizabeth Howard – a miniature from the studio of John Hoskins the elder. Courtesy of Ham House, Surrey

Elizabeth Howard was the only surviving child of William Howard and his wife Ann. It was William who could trace his lineage through his mother Katherine Carey, the daughter of Henry Carey who was the son of Mary Boleyn and, rumour has it, Henry VIII.

William’s father, Charles 1st Earl of Nottingham was the grandson of the powerful Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk and first cousin to Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s second and fifth wives.

Elizabeth Howard was born on January 19, 1603 at Arundel House, the London Howard family home – “a large and old built house, with a spacious yard for stabling towards the Strand, and with a gate to enclose it, where there was a porter’s lodge, and as large a garden towards the Thames near St Clement Danes.” (British History Online.)

Elizabeth divided her time between her father’s London home and Bletchingley Palace, a manor house given to the family by Queen Elizabeth and once belonging to her father’s fourth wife the unattractive, so say, but extremely fortunate Anne of Cleves.

The year 1603 was a momentous one. A year in which the old Tudor Queen Elizabeth died and James VI of Scotland added the English crown to his portfolio.

Elizabeth Howard by Anthony van Dyck

Elizabeth Howard by Anthony van Dyck

In 1620 Elizabeth married John Mordaunt, who had his own monarchical problems. John was the son of Henry Mordaunt, imprisoned in the Tower of London on suspicion of being involved in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Whether the Crown ever had a case against Henry remains up for debate. He was eventually released after a year in the fortress prison, during which time his son was removed from the family home and made a ward of the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Abbott.

Fortunately the handsome young Mordaunt heir had caught the eye of King James who had a weakness for a comely pair of male legs. In 1616 he made John a Knight of the Bath as part of the celebrations of the investiture of Charles as Prince of Wales and on March 9, 1628 Charles himself created John 1st Earl of Peterborough. So everything was hunky dory on the royal front then?

However as an impending civil war loomed on the horizon, Elizabeth made no bones about whose side she was on, and it wasn’t the King’s.

Elizabeth and John had three surviving children, sons Henry and John and a daughter Elizabeth.

John died in 1642. Elizabeth outlived him by almost 30 years. She died at their Drayton home in Northamptonshire in 1671. Her body was interred in the churchyard at Chelsea Old Church alongside her father and grandmother Katherine Carey.

So I know you are waiting for the great St John reveal. Well the first connection is straightforward. Elizabeth’s mother was Ann St John of Bletsoe, the daughter of John 2nd Baron St John of Bletsoe and Catherine Dormer from the senior branch of the family descended from Margaret Beauchamp’s elder son John.

 

Anne Leighton

Anne Leighton

But there is another …

Remember Elizabeth’s father William Howard traced his ancestry back to Henry Carey, the son of Mary Boleyn, and possibly Henry VIII. Well Mary had a daughter Catherine who may also have been the daughter of Henry VIII. Catherine Carey married Francis Knollys by whom she had a daughter named Elizabeth. Elizabeth Knollys married Sir Thomas Leighton and their daughter Anne married Sir John St John 1st Baronet, whose magnificent alabaster memorial stands in St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze.

Fascinating, isn’t it!

Elizabeth Mallet Palk – married by owl light

When Horace married Elizabeth they tied the knot ‘at half past seven by owl light.’ Now doesn’t that sound magical – I shall definitely be using that phrase at every possible opportunity in the future.

The young aristocrats married at that celebrity church, St George’s in Hanover Square. According to Lady Charlotte Williams-Wynn the wedding party had something of a wait as the Bishop of Gloucester was locked in the House of Lords for a division.

St George's, Hanover Square.

St George’s, Hanover Square.

Perhaps the guests gathered beneath the portico, watching the rich and famous enjoying an evening promenade along St George’s Street. Or maybe they took a stroll down to the gardens to pass the time.

Set in the very heart of fashionable London, St George’s, built in 1721-25 has been ever popular for society weddings and in 1816 there were 1,063. The first wedding to take place in the new church on April 30 1725 was between David Williams and Sarah Thomas. Flipping through the pages of the registers reveal some notable names. For example, on September 8, 1757 John Calvert married Elizabeth Hulse, the only daughter of Sir Edward Hulse, physician to Queen Anne, George I and George II.

And on July 22, 1765 the Rt Hon William Lord Viscount Folkestone, later to be 1st Earl of Radnor, married his third wife Anne, Lady Dowager Feversham. His grandson, William Pleydell Bouverie, 3rd Earl of Radnor would marry Judith Anne St John Mildmay in 1814 a distance relative of Elizabeth Mallet Palk.  Thereon in the registers are peppered with the great and the good, including a few more St Johns.

wedding

Horace was born in 1791 the younger son of Admiral Lord Hugh Seymour and his wife Lady Anne Horatia Waldegrave. Following the death of his parents Horace was placed with his uncle Lord Hertford who guided him through a military and political career. Horace served as a gentleman usher to the prince regent from 1818-1820 and also from 1820-30 following the princes’ accession to the throne. He then served as a gentleman usher to William IV from 1830-31 followed by service as an equerry 1832-7. He continued service in the reign of the newly crowned Queen Victoria.

The young cavalry officer fought bravely and was said to have killed more men than anyone else at bloody Waterloo, receiving several promotions during that year, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Col Henry Beauchamp Seymour

Elizabeth was one of eight children born to Sir Lawrence Palk, 2nd Baronet and his second wife Lady Dorothy Elizabeth Vaughan. Like several of her siblings, Elizabeth bore the middle name Mallet, reference to her noble ancestors, including another Elizabeth Mallet, wife of the notorious John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester.

At the time of her marriage Elizabeth was living at Suite II, the Secretary of War’s Lodgings at Hampton Court Palace overlooking Base Court. These Grace and Favour apartments were allocated at the discretion of the reigning monarch to those who had performed a great service to the Crown. Some families had a stranglehold on these hugely desirable residences, among them the extended Seymour family.

Base Court, Hampton Court Palace

Elizabeth’s first child, Charles Francis, was born on September 13, 1819 at Rendlesham Hall in Suffolk where the couple were visiting Lord Rendlesham. The child was christened the next day, perhaps because he was not expected to survive. The couple’s next two children were born at their London home 23 Bruton Street, just a few doors up from where Elizabeth II was born. Frederick Beauchamp Paget Seymour born 1821 and his sister Adelaide Horatia Elizabeth born four years later were both christened at St George’s, Hanover Square.

Adelaide

Their fourth child was born in the suite of rooms at Hampton Court Palace that Elizabeth had occupied for so many years. The week old baby girl was christened Gertrude Elizabeth at the parish church of St Mary’s, Hampton on January 20, 1827 – just two days after her mother’s funeral service was held in the same church.

death

The apartment apparently remained in the Seymour tenure as this is where little Gertrude died two years later.  The entry in the parish registers notes that she was buried in a private vault in the church, perhaps reunited with her mother.

Horace continued to lived at Hampton Court Palace and this amusing anecdote is recalled in Factsheet ‘Grace and Favour’ at Hampton Court Palace Suffragettes, Soldiers and Servants 1750 – 1950 Exhibition

Sir Horace Beauchamp Seymour (1791-1851) a single, dashing, former Battle of
Waterloo war hero moved into the palace in 1827. A spate of ‘fainting’ episodes
followed in the Chapel Royal during the services, where the strategically placed
‘helpless’ victims managed to fall into his arms. After the third successive
Sunday of fainting fits, the epidemic was brought to a halt by his aunt, also a
resident, who pinned a note to the Chapel door warning any other would-be
sufferers that Branscombe the Dustman would henceforth be carrying them out
of the Chapel Royal! By the following Sunday the faintings had ceased.

There’s something about Horace that’s just a bit – I don’t know, objectionable, don’t you think? In 1835 he married Frances Poyntz, sister of Georgiana Poyntz wife of Frederick, 4th Earl Spencer. Charles 9th Earl Spencer writes about this marriage in his authoritative book The Spencer Family.

‘Aunt Fan’ was known for her looks and her lack of intelligence. Although she adored Sir Horace, he had married her only to pay off his debts. He never concealed that fact from her and, as soon as the wedding service was over, he retired to his gentleman’s club to resume his bachelor existence. Sir Horace’s sister, a Mrs Damer, was so appalled by his behaviour that she immediately went to a jeweller’s and bought an emerald and diamond halfhoop ring, which she gave to her new sister in law, claiming it was from Seymour. ‘Aunt Fan’ never knew otherwise.

See what I mean?

Of Elizabeth’s three surviving children eldest son Charles, Lieutenant Colonel in the Scots Fusilier Guards, was killed in action at the Battle of Inkerman; second son, Admiral Frederick was a British Naval Commander and created Baron Alcester in 1882.  And in a strange twist of marital fate Horace and Elizabeth’s daughter Adelaide Horatia Elizabeth became the second wife of Frederick Spencer, 4th Earl Spencer. Her 2x great granddaughter was Diana Frances Spencer, later Diana, Princess of Wales.

Diana, Princess of Wales

Diana, Princess of Wales

The ancestry of Elizabeth Mallet Seymour can be traced back to Anne Leighton who married John St John in 1604 and lies buried in the family vault at St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze.

Anne Wilmot

At the end of the 17th century life continued to be pretty short and precarious whatever one’s status. Medicine was still mired in superstition and women of child bearing age were particularly vulnerable.

Johanna St John’s Booke dated 1680 representing a lifetimes collection of receipts and remedies is held at the Wellcome Library, a repository of books, manuscripts and archives recording the history of medicine. Most great homes had just such a book – the difference with Johanna’s is that she included contributions from eminent doctors of the day.

When John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, lay in his final agonies, his mother Anne consulted her sister-in-law Johanna for a draught to ease his sufferings.

Johanna obviously practised what she preached, surviving the birth of 13 children and living to the grand old age of 75. Sadly her three Wilmot great nieces proved to be less fortunate and Anne died in 1703 aged 36.

Anne Wilmot

Anne Wilmot

Anne was the eldest of four children born to Elizabeth Mallet, Countess of Rochester, wife of the disreputable but talented second earl, John Wilmot. Anne’s early childhood was spent largely at her parents Oxfordshire home at Adderbury and her mother’s property at Enmore in Somerset.

It was at Adderbury that Anne married her first husband Henry Baynton in July 1685. Henry, the son of a family friend, was 21 and Anne was 18. Anne was a good catch. Along with her two younger sisters she was co-heiress to her late brother’s estate and brought land valued at £21,000 to the marriage.

The ancient Baynton family had long been pally with the Royal family and had played host to Henry VIII and James I at the magnificent Bromham House. Built in 1538 by Sir Edward Baynton at a reputed cost of £15,000 and said to be as large as the royal palace at Whitehall, sadly Bromham House was destroyed during the Civil War. Sir Edward’s grandson, another Sir Edward (1593-1657) rebuilt the Baynton family home as Spye Park and it was at this address that the newly weds set up home.

Farleigh Hungerford Castle

Farleigh Hungerford Castle

At the time of their marriage Henry, Tory MP for Chippenham, was already engaging in a spot of property speculation, buying Hinton Priory, the Manor of Farleigh Hungerford and various land from the profligate Sir Edward Hungerford.

Known as ‘Hungerford the Waster’ Sir Edward was a distant relative of Henry’s wife Anne. Anne was the 2 x great granddaughter of Lucy Hungerford, pictured with her first husband John on the St John polyptych in St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze. Following John’s death in 1594 Lucy married her kinsman Sir Anthony Hungerford, had three more children, bringing her total up to 13 before dying in 1597. Sir Anthony married secondly Sarah Crouch and Sir Edward was his grandson from this second marriage.

John St John and Lucy Hungerford (centre)

John St John and Lucy Hungerford (centre)

Henry bought the Manor of Farleigh with the Castle for £56,000. Although the immediate Hungerford family mourned the loss, they might have been consoled had they known the Castle remained in the extended Hungerford, St John, Wilmot family.

The young Baynton family moved in but within four years the dream came crashing down about their ears. Henry died suddenly on July 11, 1691 in his 27th year, following a short illness and was buried the same day in the crypt at St Nicholas’ Church, Bromham. Sadly all this property buying had left Henry up to his eyes in debt. His Will written shortly before his death devised most of the Hungerford estates to his executors Sir Edward Warneford and Walter Grubbe, to be sold to clear these debts.

Anne had the income from her mother’s estate at Enmore, which she inherited when she was 24, bit it was far from plain sailing thereon in. Anne was forced to sell most of the remaining Hungerford estates with her favourite Farleigh Castle and Park sold to Hector Cooper of Trowbridge.

Her two young children, John and Anne aged 3 and 2 respectively at the time of their father’s death, were placed under the guardianship of the said Walter Grubbe of Eastwell House, Potterne, MP for Devizes, although they probably continued to live with Anne.

It was imperative that Anne remarry, and quickly, but she chose her new husband carefully, marrying Francis Greville, MP for Warwick, on January 26, 1693. Francis was the son and heir of Fulke Greville, 5th Baron Brooke of Beauchamp’s Court, and herein lies yet another connection to Anne’s St John ancestry.

The Manor of Beauchamp’s Court at Alcester had been acquired by Sir Fulke Greville in the mid 16th century, inherited by his son and grandson. However the third Sir Fulke Greville died in 1628 unmarried and without issue and his titles and estate passed to his adopted son Robert Greville, his second cousin once removed and now came into the branch from which Anne’s second husband Francis descended. Unfortunately Francis missed out on inheriting the title of 6th Baron Brooke and Beauchamp’s Court – oh, and not forgetting Warwick Castle – as he died just 11 days before his father also shuffled off this mortal coil. All the goodies went to Francis and Anne’s eldest son Fulke who only survived his father by four months when everything then went to his brother William.

So where is the St John link? Beauchamp’s Court had once belonged to Walter de Beauchamp, the 4 x great grandfather of matriarchal Margaret Beauchamp who married Oliver St John c1425.

Well now we’ve sorted out that medieval Monopoly board, let’s proceed. Anne went on to have a batch of Greville children, four of whom survived to adulthood. Fulke born c1693, William 1694, Elizabeth and Catherine in 1698.

Her Baynton daughter Anne eventually went on to marry wealthy Edward Rolt while her second Greville son moved into Warwick Castle.

Anne died in 1703. Her body was returned to Bromham for burial alongside her first husband Henry. The photograph of her memorial in the church is reproduced here courtesy of Duncan and Mandy Ball.

Anne Wilmot's memorial Bromham

Many thanks to the Baynton History website.

Malet Wilmot, Lady Lisburne

If you’ve ever been embarrassed by a spot of dad dancing or a dodgy jumper and slacks combo, spare a thought for Malet Wilmot, youngest daughter of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester.

Lady Malet Wilmot

Lady Malet Wilmot

Malet’s dad was probably the most outrageous member of Charles II’s Restoration court, and that in itself is quite an accolade. He produced some of the rudest poetry and plays ever written and led a life of debauchery, dying at the age of 33 probably from syphilis or maybe alcoholism.

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl Rochester

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl Rochester

In 1665 he attempted an abduction of the wealthy heiress Elizabeth Malet, after which he spent three weeks on the naughty step in the Tower of London. But perhaps it was all just a playful escapade as the lady married him some two years later anyway.

Elizabeth Malet, Countess of Rochester

Elizabeth Malet, Countess of Rochester

Malet, the youngest of their four children, was born in 1675. Her father succumbed to his excessive lifestyle in 1680 when she was barely five years old and her mother died less than a year later, so little Malet probably had scant memory of either of her parents.

The orphaned children then came under the guardianship of their formidable, puritanical grandmother, the Dowager Countess of Rochester, the former Anne St John. It must have all come as a bit of a shock!

Anne St John, Dowager Countess of Rochester

Anne St John, Dowager Countess of Rochester

Yet despite her notorious father, or perhaps because of him, Malet was a very desirable prospect in the marriage stakes. Her brother Charles had died aged just 10, leaving his three sisters as co-heiresses of the Rochester family fortunes.

Malet was married off at the age of 17 to wealthy Welsh landowner John Vaughan. The marriage took place at St Giles’ in the Fields on August 18, 1692. Consent was given by Malet’s meddling grandmother, the Dowager Countess of Rochester who had recently moved from her Oxfordshire home to a property in St Anne’s, Soho.

The couple had six children – three sons and three daughters – all of whom were christened at Trawsgoed, a vast estate extending across 22 parishes in Cardiganshire, complete with panoramic views of the Cambrian mountains and the remains of a Roman fort, held by the Vaughan family since 1200.

Trawsgoed mansion house

Trawsgoed mansion house

John Vaughan served as MP for Cardiganshire 1694-1698 and was created baron Fethers and Viscount Lisburne by William III on June 25, 1695.

In 1720 Lord Lisburne sold the manor of Sutton Mallet in Somerset, an estate that had been held by his deceased wife’s Malet family for as long as Trawsgoed had been owned by his own. The property was bought by the disreputable Robert Knight, cashier of the doomed South Sea Company. His son, Robert Knight, Lord Luxborough, bought the manor following the enforced sale of his father’s estate. For readers keeping track of St John family doings – Robert Knight, Lord Luxborough, was the husband of Henrietta St John. Malet and Henrietta shared a common ancestry and were the great grandchildren of John St John, 1st Baronet, and Anne Leighton and were, therefore second cousins.

Elizabeth Barry

Elizabeth Barry

Malet died in 1716 aged 40ish. Did she have a problem with her Papa’s past? Apparently not as she appears to have kept up a correspondence with Elizabeth Barry, one of her father’s mistresses and mother of his natural daughter Elizabeth Clerke. The former actress wrote letters to Malet full of local news and gossip. Well who would have thought?

And for the Royal watchers among you – Lady Malet Wilmot is the 8x great grandmother of William, Duke of Cambridge.

kate-middleton-prince-william-royal-family-photo-ftr

Katherine St John, Lady Mompesson

Intriguing and frustrating in equal measure is the paucity of information available about some of these Good Gentlewomen. At least there is a portrait of Katherine St John on the magnificent St John polyptych, believed to have been painted by that Tudor ‘Curtain and Carpets’ master William Larkin.

The six St John sisters. Katherine is picture far right

The six St John sisters. Katherine is picture far right

Katherine is believed to have been born around 1585, the eldest daughter of Sir John St John and his wife Lucy Hungerford. Katherine and her siblings spent their early childhood at the medieval mansion in Lydiard Park.

Following their father’s death in 1594 Katherine’s two brothers Walter and John were made Wards of Court. Although Lucy quickly remarried it appears that not all her children remained with her. Some of the girls at least were sent to live at Battersea with their uncle Oliver St John – a pretty unhappy time for them according to Katherine’s niece Lucy Hutchinson.

Katherine married Giles Mompesson, the son of Thomas Mempesson from Great Bedwyn, in 1606/7 at St John’s Church, Hackney. Katherine could have been as young as 13 although this would not have been considered exceptionally young – her sister in law Anne Leighton was this age when she married Katherine’s brother John at the same church the following year. However it is believed that Anne and John did not live as man and wife for several years; the fate of Katherine is not known. Life at Battersea might not have been a barrel of laughs but I’d wager a purse full of gold and silver thread that it was preferable to living with Sir Giles.

In 1621 he was described as ‘a litle black man of a black swart complection with a litle black beard’ but perhaps after eighteen years of marriage Katherine had stopped noticing – there were far more pressing problems for her to cope with by then. Sir Giles was – how can I put it – entrepreneurial. No, that’s not quite the right word. Avaricious, a miscreant, probably quite loathsome I would imagine, that’s more like it.

The St John family, along with most other aristocrats of the day, were quick to exploit their advantages and Sir Giles had one hugely influential in-law. Katherine’s sister Barbara was married to Sir Edward Villiers, half brother to royal favourite George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, who was close to the ear (and other anatomical features) of King James I.

George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham

George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham

Through Buckingham Sir Giles managed to land a few plum positions. By 1620 Sir Giles had been appointed Commissioner to grant Licences to Keepers of Inns and Alehouses, a hugely lucrative job if you knew how to play it. Sir Giles charged exorbitant fees – £5-£10 and those that couldn’t afford to pay up he prosecuted, approximately 4,000 people. But that wasn’t all. Sir Giles procured the patent and exclusive right to manufacture gold and silver thread. Apparently the process was incredibly dangerous. Wiltshire antiquarian John Aubrey records those involved in the production suffered badly – ‘they rotted their heads and arms and brought lameness on those that wrought it, some losing their eyes and many their lives by the venom of the vapours that came from it.’

This caused such uproar that the King called in the patent, but it was Mompesson’s abuse of his role as Alehouse Commissioner that really got him into trouble. Sir Giles was stripped of his knighthood, fined £10,000 and sentenced to life imprisonment. However, he had already done a flit overseas by the time the judgement came in so his sentence was commuted to perpetual banishment. Wiley Sir Giles lay low in France where Katherine joined him, and returned when all the fuss had died down.

The general opinion was that James came down so heavily on Sir Giles to appease a people that hated the royal favourite. George Villiers, an extremely unpopular figure, was eventually stabbed to death in a Portsmouth pub on August 23, 1628 by Army Officer John Felton.

So where did Katherine figure in this right old who ha? The fine paid by her husband was returned to her in a roundabout way. The King granted that the £10,000 be placed in the hands of Katherine’s brother Sir John St John and her younger half brother Edward Hungerford ‘in trust to the use of Lady Mompesson and her child.’

Sir Giles and Lady Katherine Mompesson

Sir Giles and Lady Katherine Mompesson

Katherine died in 1633 aged approximately 48. Her reprehensible husband erected a monument to her memory in the church of St Mary’s and outlived her by a further eighteen years.

A translation of the Latin inscription on the tomb reads:

Sacred to the memory of the best of women, the lady Katherine Mompesson, peerless in beauty, chastity, constancy, piety, and every form of virtue, the eldest sister of John St John of Lydiard Tregoze, Baronet, and dearest wife of Giles Mompesson of the ancient family of Bathampton in the County of Wiltshire, knight. This Giles, fully mindful of twenty-six years of happy married life (being still alive) has made this tomb, where he has given orders for his ashed to be laid (when the day shall come). She died on 28 March, 1633.

Stay, traveller, not to damage these effigies made by the sculptor’s hand.

Read in full the ways of those now dead.